Sunday, May 20, 2012

Reel Thoughts: Coming to America

As big a fame whore as Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Sasha Baron Cohen’s General Aladeen (rhymes with Paula Deen) of the fictional North African nation of Wadiya -- a.k.a. The Dictator -- is a power-mad man-child who rules his oil-rich country like a giant sandbox. He is desperate to build nuclear weapons, but he has a bad tendency of killing the scientists who he needs for minor slights. Although he spends his lonely nights in bed with celebrities like Megan Fox (in a hilarious cameo), soon reality intrudes and Aladeen is compelled to address the United Nations to avoid ending up like Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi.

Unbeknownst to him, it is really a plot by his uncle Tahir (Ben Kingsley) to replace him with his goat-herder double so that he can sell Wadiya’s oil to the West. Escaping from John C. Reilly’s FBI assassin, Aladeen is soon running around New York City puncturing all kinds of sacred cows (pro-war politicians, anti-war activists, snobby New Yorkers, etc.). He is rescued by Anna Faris (in a brunette pixie cut), who runs an impossibly politically-correct co-op and who mistakes the now-beardless despot for a Wadiyan dissident, albeit an incredibly rude one.

Freed from the constraints of the hidden-cam mockumentary structure of Borat and Bruno, The Dictator is more conventional but just as much of an equal opportunity offender as those comedies. You will definitely laugh out loud many times, even as many jokes or plot points fall flat. If you pay close enough attention, you’ll also hear some pretty trenchant political and pop culture jabs.

Will Aladeen see the errors of his oppressive, misogynistic ways and make Wadiya into a democracy? Will Tahir and his Big Business buddies turn Wadiya into a new source of oil for the US? The Dictator is a mixed bag of comedy, laugh-out loud scenes, groan-inducing parts and everything in between. Whether or not you want to meet The Dictator will depend on how much you like its leading man.

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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